A volunteer collects seawater from the deep on the Seward Line, Part 4 of 4

This is the final installment of a four-part journal. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


Ana Aguilar Islas tests her collector invention. Terry Johnson photo.

Friday—Wake up groggy, short of sleep after rolling on the open Gulf of Alaska on return to Resurrection Bay. Yesterday we put in 17 hours, finishing up just after midnight. We had stations in Prince William Sound including Icy Bay, which we entered in the dark, icebergs glowing eerily in the reflected deck lights of the ship.

We test Ana Aguilar Islas’ new “fish” apparatus by sending data on oxygen, temperature and salinity through a thin black wire that runs up the tow line to the deck, down passageways, through coils and bundles, and eventually into Ana’s laptop computer. We spent hours making padding out of scrap garden hose, cable tying and wrapping clipped ends with black tape, only to take it apart again after a few hours, in the wind and slashing rain, and declaring the test a success. Did our last station at 2200 and then spent a couple of hours pulling things apart, taking everything to the hold and securely stowing.

This morning we ate at 0700 just in time for the GAK 1 cast. This is the site of the longest continuous oceanographic data set on the Gulf. After that we go to RES 2.5, a station inside Resurrection Bay. The water is flat, the flattest I’ve ever seen in the many times I’ve run up and down the bay, usually in my own boats. The ceiling is low, there is drizzle, and filmy clouds are draped across the lower slopes of the mountains on both sides of the bay.

When the last CTD and CalVET are aboard and the captain throttles up the twin Cat diesels for the trip to town, the entire scientific crew surges into accelerated action. Personal gear is gathered up and packed. The winches and booms are secured. The sampling devices are disassembled and secured for transit. Tons of bags, boxes, scientific instrument cases are wrestled through companionways and staged on the shelter deck and the boat deck.

man looks into microscope

Russ Hopcroft at work in the onboard lab. Terry Johnson photo.

The ship is tied to the dock at the Seward Marine Center and I hardly notice, engaged as I am with dragging, pushing, lifting, carrying equipment, gear and leftover supplies. At the dock we start to “demob,” with all those items placed in cargo nets and lifted by crane to the dock, where forklifts and trucks carry the stuff away to storage or shipment. Whole freezers are hoisted from the hold, their contents stowed at the correct temperature—minus 40, minus 80—to ensure that the water reaches the testing labs properly preserved.

Visitors come and go. Plans are made to meet up in the evening for a few celebratory rounds at the bar. The ship’s crew prepares to depart at midnight for the 16 hour voyage to Homer, headquarters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and homeport of the Tiglax.

In a week we’ve traveled nearly a thousand nautical miles of ocean, sampling at more than 40 stations—most of them twice each—collecting more than a thousand samples, spending nearly $150,000 in research grant funds to do so. We’ve added another set of data points to a 21-year time series, monitoring the ever-fluctuating chemical and biological state of the northern Gulf of Alaska.

Now the real work begins, in testing labs and on computers. The oceanographer’s glamorous shipboard life gives way to the daily routine of numbers. Oceans of numbers.

— By Terry Johnson